Lewiston, Idaho 

Lewiston is the county seat and is located in the western part of the county at the confluence of the Clearwater and Snake Rivers. Lewiston is the first incorporated town in Idaho, the first capital of Idaho Territory, and the only seaport in Idaho.

          Lewiston was established at the confluence of the Snake and Clearwater Rivers as a result of Captain E.D. Pierce's gold discovery in 1860. Since the shallow bed of the Clearwater River was an obstacle to steamboat traffic, Lewiston was the natural choice for a supply center at the head of navigation. Although the actual mining took place in the wilderness of the Clearwater and Salmon Rivers to the east, Lewiston flourished during the mining era.

           In early 1863, Lewiston was incorporated as a village in the Territory of Washington. Later that year, when Idaho Territory was established, Lewiston was given a charter and was the first recognized municipality in the new territory however Lewiston was not platted until 1874. Lewiston retained its original charter, which had certain advantages but also restrictions, until January 1970 when it was abandoned to allow annexation of the Orchards.

          At the time of the gold discovery, the land where Pierce and Lewiston would be located was still part of the Nez Perce reservation.  Only framed canvas tents were used   until 1863, in order to comply with regulation and scarcity of lumber, only temporary structures could be placed on reservation land, earning Lewiston the nickname “Ragtown, “ named by a Portland, Oregon reporter.         

The town was named in honor of Meriwether Lewis.  The famous explorers of the Northwestern United States, Lewis and Clark, camped on the north bank at the confluence of the Clearwater (Koos Kooske) and Snake (Lewis) Rivers on October 10, 1805.      Tsceminicum is the name given to the “meeting of the waters” by the Nez Perce (Ni Mii Pu).

          As the desire for a permanent settlement became stronger, the settlers prevailed upon William Craig and Robert Newell for intervention on behalf of Lewiston. Craig and Newell had wives of the Nez Perce Tribe and were respected by the Native Americans. Some building began to take place, and in 1863 a new treaty was negotiated placing Lewiston outside the boundaries of the reservation.

          In late 1862, with the discovery of gold in the Boise Basin, miners began to leave Clearwater country for what they hoped were richer fields farther south. Lewiston's population dropped from several thousand to 300. Despite this decline, Lewiston became the first capital of the newly organized Idaho Territory in 1863. This prestige was short lived because in 1865 the territorial legislature voted to relocate the capital to Boise.

          After the gold rush, Lewiston's growth was slower and perhaps more healthy. The settlement prospered and  ontinued to serve miners who remained in Clearwater country. In addition,the surrounding area developed an agricultural economic base.  Economic development hinged on the city's location at the confluence          

Elevation is 741', the lowest of any community in Idaho. T35/36N R6/5W sec 1/31.

© 2019 by Nez Perce County Historical Society and Museum

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